Inside NGE

Fact Check: Button's Signature

New Georgia Encyclopedia editors continually update the resource in order to keep the encyclopedia's 2,200+ articles fresh and accurate. Here, they report on recent interesting changes.

Button Gwinnett, one of the three Georgia signers of the Declaration of Independence, has kind of been in the air this year. The success of Hamilton on Broadway seems to have brought about renewed interest in the founding fathers, and Gwinnett himself was recently parodied on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. An NGE reader recently wrote asking us to reexamine the estimated value of Button Gwinnett's autograph, which is highly sought after among collectors seeking complete collections of the founding fathers' signatures.
 
In 2004 we wrote that a letter with Gwinnett's signature was valued at $250,000 at auction. It seems that interest in the plantation owner and brigadier general has not decreased since then. In 2015 a Missouri historical society put a Gwinnett signature up for auction. Mullock's auction house in the United Kingdom set the guide price for the piece at £80,000 ($122,000). Its value was lower than previous signatures because it was clipped out of an unknown document.
 
The 2015 signature’s value was chump change compared to the price a Gwinnett signature attracted in 2012. In that case, the signature was valued between $700,000 and $800,000 because it was attached to a historical document, a letter where Gwinnett expressed frustration at debts he incurred to the British during his move to the colonies. Gwinnett became an American revolutionary leader soon after.
 
There are only fifty-one Gwinnett signatures known to exist, according to the Daily Mail. Gwinnett died at the age of forty-two in a duel with Lachlan McIntosh in May 1777. We updated the value of Gwinnett’s signature in the last paragraph with the price it attracted in 2012. It seems that, given the growing interest in America’s early history, we’ll have to update the price again soon.
 
This piece originally appeared in the bi-monthly Georgia Humanities newsletter. You can sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox here.
 
Interested in suggesting your own revisions? Visit our Contact Us page. If you found our Button Gwinnett article interesting, then you might also like our articles on the Revolutionary War in Georgia, Royal Georgia, and Gwinnett County.
 
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Courtesy of Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries